Nearly three weeks ago, freshman business major Daniella Cohen noticed mold growing on the blinds in her Elkton Hall dorm.
Though maintenance crews removed it the same day, the spores returned later that week — this time on her air conditioner and furniture — accompanied by a sore throat and rash she suspected were related.
"It's terrible to have to live in mold," said Cohen, who has a mold allergy. "It doesn't smell good, and it affects your health."
Cohen is not alone. A slew of University of Maryland students have found mold spores in their dorm rooms and apartments over the past couple of weeks, spurring a third-party review of the mold's origin and the university's practices for handling it.
Reports were originally concentrated around Elkton Hall, but students told The Diamondback they had found mold in at least nine more dorms and apartments across the campus last week — Anne Arundel, Bel Air, Centreville, Cumberland, Denton, Harford and Montgomery halls, as well as South Campus Commons buildings 3 and 4. Mold was also reported in five fraternity houses.
Common surface mold can exacerbate allergic symptoms, including coughing and wheezing or throat, eye or skin irritation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The problem dates to Labor Day weekend and became widespread the week of Sept. 16 as rain and high humidity created conditions that were ripe for mold growth, Department of Resident Life spokesperson Tracy Kiras wrote in an email.
Kiras declined to "provide specific details" on the exact number of affected dorms but wrote that the department is working to respond to "isolated reports of mold as quickly as possible."
Beginning Sept. 23, Elkton Hall residents, including Cohen, were temporarily relocated to hotels across College Park so that Residential Facilities staff could "thoroughly clean and remediate" the mold, according to a Sept. 21 letter.
Though Cohen said she appreciated the clean space in her room at the College Park Marriott, the transition to the hotel brought logistical frustrations, mainly regarding the walking distance to her classes and the dining hall.
"If I wanted to go to the dining hall, I had to walk 15-20 minutes or take a 20-minute bus around back to Elkton, which is kind of a pain," she said. "I ended up Ubering, and I ordered a lot of food in, because it took so much time."
The university hired a third-party consulting firm, Building Dynamics, to review Residential Facilities' standard operating procedures for dealing with mold, Kiras wrote. They will oversee the remediation process and attempt to determine the root cause of the mold, she added.
The firm's work began on Sept. 24 and will wrap up "hopefully in a few weeks," said Building Dynamics president Ed Light, though he stressed that the timetable remains fluid.
Elkton's air conditioning units struggled to adjust to the recent high humidity, which likely caused the mold, Light added.
"The design of the system … is not optimal for humidity control," Light said. "When the summer weather [came along], the amount of humidity that wasn't being controlled went over the threshold for mold to start growing."
The mold remediation process in Elkton Hall is "progressing on schedule," Kiras wrote. Students on the top four floors have been cleared to return to their rooms, while students on the bottom four floors will be gradually moved to hotels through next week and are expected to be back in Elkton by Oct. 10, after the work is finished, she added.
Kiras said the university does not have any current plans to reimburse students beyond their hotel stay, but she noted that they can file an insurance claim for any damaged property if they wish.
Freshman psychology major Shannon Cleary, who returned to her dorm on Monday following a three-night stay at The Hotel at the University of Maryland, said the situation has made for "a rough couple of weeks" but expressed optimism about moving forward.
"I'm looking forward to getting back in the swing of things," she said. "I'm hoping that now that they've done all this cleaning, the mold issue is over."